Non League Club

The Bourne Identity

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on August 4, 2012

After three and a half hours of watching horses (and riders) jumping over the same fences I needed some excitement.  It is tough spending so much time around “horsey” types.  They tend think they are better than us footballing types, with their jodphurs on and sitting a glass of champagne, whilst we were tucking into our pork pies and it is not a world I ever want to have to socialise in.  So when our Olympic session ended at 2pm I eyed up a return to normality with a trip to a Non League Pre-Season friendly.  One had my name all over it – a “new” ground for me and also an opportunity to do some Ryman League scouting – Sittingbourne.

Just over an hour later I was pulling up outside Bourne Park, part of the Central Park complex in Sittingbourne.  Alas, it shares nothing but the name with the famous “lungs” of New York City.  Central Park, Sittingbourne is a Greyhound stadium, surrounded by industrial units, where as Central Park, New York is surrounded by world-famous museums.  However, as all good Kent Non League aficionados will know, Sittingbourne FC no longer play at the Greyhound Stadium – they play in the idylically named “lower field”.

Alas, just like the image of Central Park, “Lower Field” is not some sleepy meadow, surrounded by trees and a babbling brook, rather more Industrial units and a fence that in places is held up with sticky tape.

Twenty years ago they were a club with a very bright future.  The then-owners had invested heavily into the club and moved to the newly constructed out-of-town Central Park Stadium.  They had won promotion to the Southern Premier League and many tipped them to soon replace Maidstone United as Kent’s 2nd team, who were on the verge of disappearing completely due to their financial troubles.

In fact, The Stones woes should have been a warning as to what could happen for the Brickies but alas they continued to try to chase an unsustainable dream.  And like most pleasant dreams, reality bites hard when you suddenly wake up.  When the money ran out in 1998, the players departed and the club were forced to sell Central Park back to the council and become the tenant rather than the owner.  They soon passed the stadium onto a Greyhound Racing organiser who couldn’t guarantee the availability for the ground for football so the club moved around the back to the affectionately called “lower field”.  Some notable players who have played on the hallowed turf include current New Zealand Olympic Football coach Neil Emblen and our favourite Swedish Import, Kenny Pavey.

Fortunately, things today are more stable on the field.  The club have been a fixture in the Isthmian League Southern division for some time, although last season they came a bit too close for comfort of relegation back to the Kent Premier League, finishing in 19th spot.  This season the club have a first in any level of football I am aware of – Joint Managers, who just happen to be brothers.  Jim and Danny Ward joined from fellow Isthmian League Ramsgate.

The visitors for one of the final pre-season games of the season were Aveley – a team who know a thing or two about having a ground that is, how should we say, in need of a bit of TLC.  The Millers were relegated (actually by Lewes) last season and under the care of stylish Justin Gardner (sporting smart trousers, white shirt, thin tie and Vans) they will hope for a swift return to the Premier League.

One thing you cannot fault Sittingbourne for was making this game free admission for all.  Unfortunately, the locals seemed to have decided to stay at home on “Super Saturday” rather than support their local side.  But world-class athletics taking part in the Greatest Show on Earth wasn’t going to deter me from enjoying my afternoon of the nations favourite game.

Sittingbourne 1 Aveley 1 – Bourne Park – Saturday 4th August 2012
Sometimes the world “friendly” is used in the loosest sense of the word for these pre-season games.  There are numerous stories every season of events “boiling over” on the pitch, which often occur because of too lenient refereeing.  Nobody wants to see cards brandished here, there and everywhere but sometimes referees seem too reluctant to get their book out.  We saw it last night at Lewes v Eastbourne Borough, and the failure to take action by the official today almost led to a game spiralling out of control.

However, that underlying “niggle” probably made the difference between this game being interesting to being a run of the mill game and on at least two occasions both benches got involved in incidents that required the referee to get involved.  Add in a couple of decent goals, a missed penalty and a very nice pint of Shepherds Neame Smooth Ale and you have an afternoon well spent in the Kent countryside.

First off, “hats off” to one of the Ward brothers on the Sittingbourne bench.  It takes some bottle to pull off a Panama Hat/three-quarter length shorts look but he went for it.  As well as the dapper Aveley manager, the visitors also had a physio who thought it was acceptable to wear hot-pants and tights on the bench.

The game hinged on a twenty-minute period stretching across the half time break.  There had already been a few meaty challenges flying in, with the Sittingbourne players seeming to be coming off worse.  However, the Brickies did take the lead when Joe Nwoko muscled ahead of the Aveley defence after a ball over the top and smashed the ball home.  Their lead only lasted a few minutes before Shane Oakley took the ball passed his marker and slotted it home.

After the break the heat was turned up a notch by a few rash challenges and incidents that saw both managers wading in, trying to act as peacemakers but inevitably fuelling the flames.  The referee should have acted at the first incident and told the benches to make the necessary substitutions but they chose not to.

Sittingbourne should have won the game towards the end after Kayemebe saw his spot kicked saved by Aveley’s McCartney and then the keeper followed up and blocked the rebound.

So after the elegance of the Greenwich Park Equestrian Arena, a trip to Bourne Park was like visiting a different world.  I know which one I prefer, and although I know first hand how difficult it is to maintain a non league ground, Sittingbourne could do with investing some TLC into Bourne Park.

A double dose of Essex United

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on December 28, 2011

What a day this promised to be.  Three (well two and a half) fiercely contested local derbies, either side of the River Thames, which thanks to some fortuitous scheduling, that I could go to, as well as still putting in some “Fuller Festive Family Fun”.  Christmas is all about spending time with your loved ones, catching up on the events of the year and generally being around those nearest and dearest to you.  But when the words “Let’s go to the sales” are mentioned, all love goes out the window and football becomes a viable option.  Hence, when the three Fuller girls all expressed a wish to go shopping, I played the football get out of jail free card and planned my day of hot and spicy local derbies.

First up was a trip under the Thames to Essex for the “Battle of the M25 junction 28” as they call it in these parts. Billericay Town sat proudly on top of the table before a ball was kicked.  Despite their nearest rivals all winning yesterday, their amble goal difference of plus 27 saw them safely sit in first place.  Visitors AFC Hornchurch lay in fourth with a game in hand and just four points below.  So a win for either side today could be pivotal in the final shake up.

Whilst most football leagues will boast “this is the most difficult division to get out of”, few can claim that at the halfway point in the season there has been five different leaders, or that the top if they won their games in hand would be separated by just five points.  The Ryman Premier League has proved to be a great league for the neutrals to follow, but a bugger if you are the follower of one of the clubs.  With the Christmas period throwing up the odd derby or two, we would have been a fool to miss this one.  Billericay Town versus AFC Hornchurch.  Two teams separated by the M25 just a few miles apart and by just four points at the top of the table.

This was hard to miss.  With Lakeside just a few miles away I was able to deposit CMF and The Little Fullers at the Cathedral of Orange Tans and head northish through the vineyards of Essex to Billericay, home of Steve Davis, Alison Moyet and Lee Evans.  All three would surely be at New Lodge for this top of the table clash? I cannot think what else they could be doing on a post Christmas afternoon.

Billericay Town have surprised many this season with their rise to the top of the table.  Just two defeats, one of which was in the first week of the season to Lewes, has seen them jump above the likes of Lowestoft Town, Hendon, Lewes and visitors Hornchurch.  Their success has been built on a strong goal scoring record that has seen them average over two goals a game this season, and seen them put the likes of Kingstonian Wingate & Finchley, Tooting & Mitcham United and Canvey Island to the sword this season at home so far.  Their style has come in for some criticism as being too direct, whilst visitors Hornchurch had been called “too physical” in the past. Frankly, football is about results and so if a style works for a team then they deserve their success.  The facts suggest that whatever style works in this division as they are top of the league, with 46 goals scored to their name.

The Club have also been scratching their heads as to what they can do to get more people through the gates.  I sympathise with them and this was my whole reason for writing my Blueprint last year.

One player who unfortunately would not be gracing the pitch was Billericay keeper Nicky Morgan.  Morgan was involved in an incident outside a nightclub in Essex in October and received injuries that resulted in him being paralysed from the waist down.  The police have now arrested a man in connection with the injury.  The club have been incredibly supportive of Nicky and we also wish him well.

As we drove up through the Essex countryside we came across a line of parked cars on the road.  Surely this couldn’t be for the football?  After all, here was a team who were averaging 300 give or take a few.  According to my good friend TomTom we were still nearly a mile away.  But yes, it seemed that the locals had all read the article on the website and had put on their Christmas jumpers and hot-footed it down to the biggest game in Essex.

Billericay Town 0 AFC Hornchurch 1 – New Lodge – Tuesday 27th December 2011
Rule number 1 – when you moan about not having enough fans and then they turn up en mass, make them welcome.  The attendance of over 1,100 put strain on every aspect of the club.  The one turnstile struggled to cope in the lead up to kick off, the hot food ran out in the 44th minute as we were queuing, the bar had queues of fifteen minutes.  I appreciate it is a chicken and egg situation but some forethought could have avoided hundreds of people going away from the ground with a poor impression.

The game in truth failed to live up to its top of the table billing.  An over fussy referee tried his best to antagonise the players, managers and fans alike with some strange decisions and a pitch that made playing the ball on the ground impossible but few can argue with the result in the end.  Hornchurch were the stronger team in the second period and before they had scored the only goal, hit the bar with a well taken free kick.

Billericay had been likened to Stoke City simply because they have someone who can hurl the ball in from the touchline.  Sam Berry’s talents were used whenever there was an opportunity in the game and once or twice his throws caused chaos in the Hornchurch area and the odd controversial moment when the referee automatically penalised the home side irrespective of the outcome of the throw.

Both teams are strong, well organised and that seemed to cancel out their attacking threat.  As someone had said to me prior to the game “It won’t be one for the purists” and it certainly wasn’t. Glen Poole had the best chance of the first half for the home side but his shot was well saved by a confident, if bruised Hornchurch keeper, Joe Woolley.

In the second half the momentum swung to the visitors and on the hour they got their goal.  Michael Spencer was sent away down the wing and his cross was met by Tommy Black.  His first effort was somehow scrambled off the line but he followed up and turned the ball home.

With time running out, Billericay pushed forward, first putting one centre back up front, and then another.  Finally, keeper Dale Brightly was added to the attack.  However, from one set piece Hornchurch broke quickly and with the goal empty. Hunt shaped to shoot from the half way line but was brought down by a Billericay player.  Technically he was the last man, even though he was in the Hornchurch half.  The referee decided to give a yellow in one of those decisions that nobody will ever agree on.

Three points to Hornchurch gave them their ninth consecutive win and lifted them up into third, above Lewes and mean that the top four in the Ryman Premier are now separated by just four points.  As Glenn Frey once said – “The Heat is On”.

As the crowds tried to make their way home, we headed through the country roads of Essex, avoiding the eight mile traffic game on the M25 to Mill Road, Aveley for our second slice of Essex United in an afternoon.

Aveley 0 East Thurrock United 3 – Mill Road – Tuesday 27th December 2011
Well, sort of.  We arrived just as the teams came out for the second half, with East Thurrock United holding a 3-0 lead thanks to an eleven minute hatrick from Sam Higgins.  More was sure to follow to warm up the cockles of the bumper 250 people in the crowd.

Aveley’s ground is hard to love.  It looks as if the pitch has shrunk, or that it was once home to an Aussie Rules team.  The huge grandstand with its paddock in front looks like it belongs to a racecourse somewhere and with wasteland behind the other side of the ground it begs for some love and attention.

However, it is home to them (and Romford FC) and is more than adequate for their needs.  Alas, hot food had also run out here as well-meaning that Lolly had to go without her chips (for her Non League chip survey).

It seemed like all of the energies of the players had been spent in the first half as both teams failed to find any rhythm, demonstrating why both had started the day in the bottom three.  The Aveley keeper, David Hughes, was the busier of the two in the second period, making a fine save from Newby and Smyth, underlining the dominance of the away side.

A vibrating in my pocket meant that it was time to leave.  CMF had finished her shopping and it was time for me to return to the safety of South of the River.  Ryman  Premier League scouting assignment completed for the day.

Back of the Nanetti

Posted in Uncategorized by stuartnoel on September 10, 2011

My betting account is looking a bit low these days. After being taken to the cleaners in the various sports in the past few weeks, including backing Arsenal to win at Old Trafford a few weeks ago I rose early this morning for the Rugby World Cup.  The Little Fuller’s were still asleep so their pocket money went on France to win by 50 points versus Japan.  I broke the news to them at 9am that there wouldn’t be any cash in their pocket this week, due to “Extenuating circumstances”.  I quickly scraped together a few more pounds and put it on Argentina to win with an eleven point start.  Phew! I was redeemed..the children could have sweets once more.  Or should I just put the lot on a healthy Lewes win?

Of course I shouldn’t put these damn iPhone Apps mean that just a few seconds later I had Lolly’s weekly wage on a Lewes HT/FT and Littlest Fuller’s on a 4-0 win. Ninety minutes we could all be dining on ambrosia…or gruel.

It is fair to say that this week hasn’t been one of my finest.  A few little “stresses” at work have resulted in some early mornings and long nights.  Then I had an Intellectual Property issue, and finally someone nicked by car.  Or so I was led to believe.  Landing from Denners on Thursday I turned on my phone to have a dozen missed calls.  I got hold of CMF to see what the issue was.  “Be prepared for some bad news.”  I put down my pint glass. “Someone has nicked your car”. Stinker.  Sitting in the boot was a new pair of football socks.

A couple of policemen had come by the house with my number plates earlier on, found in a road nearby TBIR Towers.  As the bus passed the spot where I had left my car I did a double take.  There sitting all alone was my car, sans plates.  So my car hadn’t been stolen.  But according to the police it had; Do you realise how difficult it is to “unreport” a crime?  Unfortunately the number plates had already been sent to be “forensicated” (Apparently a word made up by the Met Police) and so the car was out of action.  So I persuaded Mr Fuller senior to accompany me down the road to Lewes for the visit of Aveley.

Aveley is a sort of place that doesn’t have a real identity.  It sits sort of at arms length from Thurrock, and is notable for really having nothing notable.  I’m not being disrespectful but it is just that nothing has seemed to have happened there.  The football team rose into the Ryman Premier League a few seasons ago and lost out to Borehamwood in a play off shoot out for promotion in their first season.

However, they were always going to struggle to compete at this level with crowds of just 180 at the Mill Field.  In fact they would have been looking forward to trips to Waltham Forest and Crawley Down if it wasn’t for the demise of Rushden & Diamonds in July which sent ripples down the leagues, giving the Millers a reprieve.  But this season has seen the struggle continue with just four points from the first five games.

The Rooks on the other hand were on a high.  Last week they walked out of Vale Farm in Wembley cursing the appalling performance of a substitute referee who undoubtably cost Lewes three points.  But since the opening day defeat to Lowestoft Town they had been mightily impressive.  The signing of Christian Nanetti two weeks ago has given Steve King a selection headache.  Who to pick on the flanks?  Ciardini? Aaron Watson?  Jamie Cade? or Nanetti?

King opted for a Ciardini/Nanetti partnership with the other main change seeing Lewis Hamilton coming into replace skipper Steve Robinson who was at a wedding (don’t you just love non league football).

Lewes 4 Aveley 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 10th September 2011
One of the features of the Lewes season has been early goals.  Away at Lowestoft and Hendon and home to Met Police and Billericay we had seen very early goals.  And today was no exception.  The Aveley keeper had already made a stunning save from Michael Malcolm’s free kick before Paul Booth got a foot on the end of a miscued back pass and the ball literally crawled across the line, stopping dead no more than an inch over the line.

Ten minutes later Ciardini found himself in the middle of the penalty area and in a reversal of roles Malcolm crossed and the winger thumped a great header into the top corner for his first goal of the season.  Us Lewes fans were getting a bit cocky.  “We want three” came the call, although it soon became clear it was actually a request for some homemade Steak and Harvey’s Ale pies which Lolly duly obliged with.  She has her uses.

Just as we were preparing to head to the bar Nanetti weaved his way into the penalty area after a ball from Malcolm and when faced with an advancing keeper he calmly slotted it home.  This was Hollywood scriptwriters gold, and Mr Marber didn’t disappoint us with a shout of “Back of NaNetti”.

We returned to the bar to find out that West Ham were being held by Portsmouth.  What do I care, you may think.  Well there was a big wager resting on the result with Lewes CEO Nick Williams.  He claimed that I had agreed to give him the draw.  Not a chance sunshine.

The second half followed a similar pattern to most games this season.  Whilst Lewes controlled the game, you got a feeling they had taken their foot off the gas.  Nanetti, Booth and Malcolm all produced good efforts to underline that the Rooks have a forward line that will be feared up and down the Ryman this season.

Then all of a sudden Aveley scored.  It came as such a shock that their support was stunned into disbelief.  Oh, hang on, there wasn’t any of their fans there! Micah Hyde, the ex-Watford and Burnley player sent a ball across the area and Reece Morgan scored with a well taken shot. Surely there wasn’t time for a comeback?

Of course there wasn’t.  In fact as the rain started to fall heavily on the pitch Michael Malcolm scored his fifth goal of the season when the keeper misjudged the greasy surface, allowing the Lewes forward to skip around him and literally walk the ball into an empty net to make it 4-1.

Could my day get any better?  ah of course I needed to collect my winnings  and what about a 4-3 win for West Ham?  Pay up Mr Williams, pay up – my children need new shoes.

More pictures from the afternoon can be found here.